How to: Brew a Pumpkin Ale at home!

By Matt Priaulx

The Night Before

Get your brew kettle, another large pot, and one final smaller pot. Fill the BREW KETTLE and larger pot with 2 gallons of water each. Fill the smaller pot with one gallon of water. Boil all the water for 3-5 minutes and leave the two large pots on the stove top with lids placed in such a way that they’re slightly ajar. This allows chlorine to evaporate. Cling/saran wrap or aluminum foil with holes poked will also work. Move the smaller pot with one gallon (lid situation the same) to the fridge.

If you purchased campden tablets, the boiling of water ahead of time isn’t necessary – just use a knife and carefully cut the tab into quarters, and drop roughly ¼ of the portioned tab into each vessel with the water.

Measuring out your water in the appropriate vessels ahead of time will make your morning easier. Don’t forget to still place the one gallon water pot in the fridge the night before. A quick and easy alternative to boiling/chilling one gallon of water is using a gallon of any natural spring water, like Poland Spring.

Brew Day

Heat both pots of water. We’re aiming for the BREW KETTLE to be at around 162 °F (72.2 °C). The other pot can be heated to and held near boiling, but do not boil it yet. Also, if you are using WYEAST smack packs for yeast, pull those out of the fridge and follow the instructions on the bag to activate them now. If you are using White Labs liquid yeast, pull the vials out of the fridge. If you are using dry yeast, keep it in the fridge until close to pitch time.OK, there are a few side items for this step depending on what how you choose to approach your brew.

Fill the grain bag with your milled grain and place it into the kettle. Once submerged, maneuver the bag so the opening of the bag is accessible and wide enough to allow you scoop your pumpkin/squash puree into the bag as well.

If you bought brewing salts, you’ll want to add them here as well. Keep in mind, these amounts may be tweaked a bit on brew day, but the gist to give us a pretty malty brew with Boston-area water comes to:

Gypsum – 1.17 grams

Baking Soda – .65 grams

Calcium Chloride – 3.1 grams

Epsom Salt – 63 grams

If you do not have brewing salts, no prob! Your beer will still turn out solid!

Carefully stir the grain/puree mixture to mix thoroughly. Tie the bag off to make sure no grain or puree slips out. We’re aiming to hit around 152-154 °F (66.7-68 °C) for the steeping kettle, so adjust the heating source accordingly.

NOTE: do not leave bag unattended while heat source is on. It may scorch at the bottom of the kettle, or the drawstrings that *may* be hanging over the side of the kettle could ignite if they contact the heating source.

Additionally: You may find that there’s not enough water in the kettle to adequately mix everything. If this is the case, you can add some water from your other pot of hot water to help dilute the mixture a bit.

About the puree: You can add all of at this step or save a bit to add in the last 5-10 minutes of boil with the spices. Brewers commonly utilize adding puree to both the mash and the boil. If you plan to add any to the boil, make sure you empty out the grain bag while the kettle is boiling, as the puree will have to be placed in the bag by itself.

Steep the grain bag in the 2 gallons of water in the BREW KETTLE for about 45 minutes. Do your best to monitor the temperature, adjusting the heat source as necessary. TIP: once you achieve a good temp, place the bag fully into the kettle and cover the kettle with the lid. This will help retain some heat and minimize how often you need to make temperature adjustments; you still need to check it now and then!After 45 minutes, lift the grain bag out of the steeping liquid and allow it to drip for 5 or so minutes. We’re going to do a quick, makeshift fly sparge now, where we rinse the grains to wash off stubborn sugars clinging to the grain and puree. This isn’t as critical for this brew since a majority of our sugars are coming from extract, but this will give us a little bit more, and provides some insight (on a home brew scale) into how professional brewers operate.

PROCESS: get a third medium-large pot/bowl/pitcher, place in the sink, and turn on your tap to as hot as it’ll go with a low/medium flow rate. Hold the grain bag above the vessel and use the sprayer arm/hose to hit the bag all over with water, making sure to keep the water contact always at the top of the bag. This allows the water to flow through the grains and the runnings to collect into the pot/bowl. If you do not have a sprayer attachment, holding the bag under the faucet (but above the vessel) will work with a bit of maneuvering. Gather between a quarter to half a gallon, then squeeze the bag to extract the last bits of water. Do not squeeze so hard that the bag tears or solid material is pushed through the fabric. (Tip: a colander or a sieve under the bag will help catch excess puree.) Once all this is done, dump the collected liquid into the BREW KETTLE.

Turn up the heat on the kettle as hot as it’ll go and add both cans of liquid malt extract, making sure to stir constantly and running the stirring spoon along the bottom the kettle to minimize the chances of the sweet syrup scorching.

Make sure the extract is fully dissolved and carefully pick up the other pot of near boiling water and add it to the boil kettle. Use potholders/oven mitts to aid and reduce the chance of spilling. This should increase the kettle temperature a bit, getting us closer to boiling faster. Add enough water to the kettle to make a pre-boil volume that is a couple inches below the rim of the kettle.Once the wort is boiling, start the timer! We’re boiling for one hour. Once a boil is reached, you’ll want to add your hops; you should hopefully have two single oz packs of a noble hop variety (Saaz, Tettnang, Hallertau, etc).If the packs show an alpha acid content of around 3 – 4, add both packs. If the alpha acid content in higher (around 6), then only add about 1.5 total oz. From this point, the boil will last 60 minutes, along with 2-3 additions near the end of the boil:

At the 45-minute mark, add your yeast nutrient (a quarter teaspoon should do it) and half of a whirlfloc tablet. These will help promote healthy yeast and clearer beer in the end. Don’t fret if you do not have these; with the way we are brewing this, you’ll still end up with a great brew. 

At the 50-minute mark, if you chose to add some pumpkin during the boil, now is the time to do it. Place it in the empty grain bag, and place that carefully into the kettle. If you find the wort level is to close to the rim of the kettle, remove the bag and take some puree out of the bag. Don’t worry if you don’t use all (or any) puree at this stage- spices are what makes a pumpkin ale shine!

At the 55-minute mark, you’re going to want to add your spices. These are the spices and amounts I’ll be adding, but feel free to experiment! I would say that if you plan on using clove, a little bit goes a LONG way.

Cinnamon: 5 teaspoons

Nutmeg: 1 teaspoon

Ginger: 1 teaspoon

Once the boil is complete, turn off the heat and go to your kitchen sink (or get your cooler), and fill it with about 5 – 6 inches of COLD WATER. Move the kettle to the sink/cooler, and carefully place it into the vat of cold water- use potholders if necessary. After the kettle is placed, carefully add ice to the sink water until the level is about an inch lower than the top of the sink basin, or the kettle… whichever you come closest to first. I find that moving the faucet to one side of the sink before moving the kettle is helpful and minimizes accidentally hitting or spilling anything. 

Add about ¼ gallon of the cold water you chilled overnight. (It’s still in the fridge; pull it out now and keep it out.) Gently stir the wort to mix everything. Continue to stir wort occasionally to help circulate the cooling liquid. Stir in the same direction throughout. Use a clean/disinfected cooking/candy thermometer probe to get the liquid temp soon after the liquid is fully “mixed”. We want to cool down the liquid to around 65 F (18.3 C). Don’t fret if you’re off by a few degrees.

Transfer the wort to the FERMENTER and top up with more chilled water to 5 gallons (or a little more if you’re able). We’re shooting for 68 – 70 F (20 C – 21.1 C). STIR THE BUCKET WITH VIGOR! We want to thoroughly mix this solution and oxygenate the wort a bit.

Take a gravity sample: Using a clean/disinfected turkey baster, pull out enough of a sample to fill the hydrometer vial about ¾ the way full. You can also use the stirring spoon to fill the vial. Once the vial is filled to the appropriate level, go to the sink and insert the hydrometer. Hold it steady, and wait for it to stabilize. Record the number at the level of the wort. It should read around 1.054, but a little higher or lower is fine. WRITE THIS NUMBER DOWN; it is your starting gravity! Note: most hydrometers are calibrated to be accurate at 60 F, so if your sample is hotter than that, your reading will be lower than true value. If it is cooler, your reading is higher than true value.

Pitch yeast! Wash and/or sanitize your hands. If you’re using WYEAST or White Labs, spray some isopropyl alcohol on the packs/vials, carefully open them, and pour them into the fermenter! If using dry yeast, simply soak the packet in some isopropyl alcohol for a few minutes before opening and sprinkling the yeast on top of the wort.

Seal fermenter (double check that!), affix the airlock and label, and set in a location that is room temp, out of the way, and not direct sunlight (the darker and room temp, the better). If using a 3-piece airlock, uncap it and remove the bubbler piece. Fill the airlock with (preferably) sanitizer water up to the fill line. Place the cylindrical bubbler back into the airlock and cap it. Place the assembled airlock in the gasketed hole in the lid (or bung if using a glass carboy). Grab a post-it note or some duct/painters tape and stick some on the top of the lid or side of the bucket. Use a sharpie to write the BREW DATE and STARTING GRAVITY.

You should start to see airlock activity in about 48 or so hours. RESIST THE URGE TO OPEN THE LID. From this stage forward we want to minimize exposure to oxygen, though some exposure is inevitable, and we should get a couple more readings because our end goal is around 1.012. After 5 days, draw out another sample with a sanitized turkey baster and re-seal the fermenter. If you’re at 1.015 or lower, leave it be for the remainder of fermentation. If higher, take another sample a couple days later to see how fermentation is progressing. If the number has not changed, it may be a good idea to buy one more yeast pack and add it in to help fermentation (The beer will be a bit sweeter than normal if not fully fermented.) Finally, after 2-3 weeks, when you take your gravity reading, you can also optionally add a few teaspoons for vanilla if you feel like giving it some extra pizzazz.

Well done! Grab a beer, give yourself a pat on the back, and relax for a bit before cleaning up your mess. Congrats on brewing a pumpkin ale! 

Matt Priaulx is a Pilot and Prototype Brewer at Aeronaut. The views and opinions expressed on this web site are solely those of the original author, and they do not necessarily represent those of Aeronaut Brewing Co.